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Majority says college degree is worth the ballooning cost

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll think a college degree generally is worth the cost today.

And nearly 90 percent view their personal investment in a college degree as a good value. Roughly 60 percent say they are working in a field they thought they would be in.

A recent analysis conducted for the Associated Press by researchers from Northeastern University, Drexel University and the Economic Policy Institute showed that some 1.5 million holders of bachelor’s degrees under age 25, or 53.6 percent, were jobless or underemployed last year. The job prospects for recent graduates with bachelor’s degrees were the weakest in more than a decade.

Other recent research by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce has suggested, however, that a college degree on average is worth an extra $1 million in lifetime earnings—and for certain degrees the value is much higher.

A significant majority in this week’s poll—87 percent—said they received good value for the cost of their college education. When the same question was asked in a 2007 Snap Poll, 80 percent said they got good bang for their buck out of their college.

Fifty-nine percent said they are doing the kind of work they envisioned as a career when they graduated from college. This is an increase from 2007, when 51 percent said they were.

More than 650 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted May 7.

In today’s economy, is a college degree generally worth the cost?
Yes: 65%
No: 35%

Do you think you received good value for the cost of your college education?
Yes: 87%
No: 13%

Are you doing the kind of work you envisioned as your career when you graduated from college?
Yes: 59%
No: 41%

COMMENTS:

I received a liberal arts degree decades ago, and paid for it myself. As with most of my friends, I was the first in my family to attend college, let alone graduate with a four-year degree. However, even then I realized that such a degree in itself would not lead to a career, and I went on to earn a professional degree, as well. That being said, private college or university education has become absurdly expensive. My son just graduated from UR, and the cost of my entire education (seven years’ private college and public university) was less than one semester’s tuition, room and board at that institution.
—Charles Genese

Societal attitudes have pushed too many kids into pursuing a college degree as if it’s the only way to succeed in life. College costs spiraling out of control are much too high for those who have no plan after they graduate. Too many are going deeply into debt to chase a degree that may not yield an opportunity to realize a better standard of living. A college degree is valuable to those with a career plan who are driven to succeed, but it’s not for everyone. High schools need to do a better job showing students what the other alternatives are. This country needs more candidates for the skilled trades; they are an alternative that can provide a rewarding career.
—Paul Ozminkowski, VI Manufacturing Inc.

Every day of my career—and that’s nearly 35 years now—I’ve used skills and capabilities learned in both college and graduate school. As an undergraduate I was a history major, and it’s not historical facts I use but the ability to read critically and write analytically. What the college experience teaches you goes far beyond what happens in the classroom. College teaches you how to learn, and learning is a lifelong process. Moreover, the non-academic side of a college experience provides social growth that empowers you to navigate life’s ongoing challenges more successfully. I believe that there is no better investment that one could make in the long-term quality of life than a solid college education.
—Jocelyn Goldberg-Schaible, president, Rochester Research Group

I received my B.A. degree from Nazareth College in June 1958. At that time, tuition at Nazareth was $475 per year! I also had a $200 scholarship per year. I retired in May 2000 with no debt and financially more than adequate.
—Nancy Shairer

The private schools are making it much tougher in this day and age to justify the return on investment. They really need to begin to become cognizant of the high costs that they are trying to pass on and also begin to control some of their own costs to help keep the price in control. At the current rate it is becoming more and more difficult to justify a $200,000 undergraduate degree. If the privates don’t take this seriously, they will soon lose the competitive edge on the public schools. Bottom line, you have to get a college degree!
—Lee Jacobs

There are two interpretations for “not worth the cost.” One is “Don’t bother getting a college degree.” The other is “The college degree is way overpriced.” My answer is the latter, but I still believe the degree is essential. The challenge is to deliver value commensurate with cost. With today’s technology, serious students should be able to learn from the best in their prospective fields and skip the expense of the frills.
—Diane Harris, president, Hypotenuse Enterprises Inc.

College is well worth the cost if the student applies (himself) on pursuing a degree that is marketable in today’s world. Too many students go to college today and get degrees that are worthless. College is not for everyone.
—Mike Hogan, Information Packaging Corp.

It’s a total Catch-22! You need the degree to get anywhere, but the cost of the degree keeps you from getting anywhere! We need to make university education part of the public education provided in this country. Investing in education as a nation is just that—an investment! It’s no wonder the U.S.A. has a hard time competing. We tie the hands of kids who can make a difference.
—Jenny Popoli, RE/MAX Advance

Kind of hard to judge, since the price is going up by the minute.
—Devon Michaels, Chili

Private college costs have risen at two times the rate of inflation over the past two decades. In New York State, we are fortunate to have multiple good to very good public universities and community colleges. Students and parents can choose.
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results

I am interested to know what has driven college costs up so much faster than most other elements of the economy. In the ’70s, a good summer job paid half the cost of a private college education. Today, a good summer job pays only about 10 percent of the same private college education. This would make a great piece of research.
—D. Kennedy, Webster

There needs to be more of an emphasis on learning skills and developing a strong work ethic. Too many kids insist on going away, getting into massive debt and then feel they are entitled to a good job right away. Working first, learning a trade or military service may be a better option for some, especially those with a generic degree.
—Eric Bourgeois, Rochester

Anything of value is always relative to what your return on investment is. Being 56 years old, the cost of a college education was in a much better ratio to the return it provides than it does today. Paying $20,000 for a four-year education at RIT and being able to go out and obtain a job at over $20,000 a year makes for a good return. Now a partial payment on one year of education is $20,000 and most jobs are not paying $100,000 or more a year for entry-level positions. As a country, we have to get a grip on what we want to produce and follow through on those promises to our children so that they can get a value from their education cost.
—Joe Wierzbowski, Plymouth Photo Studio

Geneseo, baby!
—Vinny Dallo, New York Life and SUNY Geneseo class of 1994

For decades, the national conversation around college has been that you MUST go. The goal has moved away from a good job—with reason behind the decision—to as much going to college for college sake. Our society fails to value other schooling and career choices in the same way, yet we need skilled machinists as much, if not more, than we need future lawyers. I’m beginning to feel that if a school does not have an intern/placement program that has a high frequency of job placement that amply pays for the loans you take on, then attending would be a waste of effort. It is a RARE mix. The middle ground between cheap but solid state education (SUNY) and Ivy League schools—where high-paid job placement is pretty much guaranteed—is treacherous territory. One must choose very wisely, if at all. If we RBJ-minded readers want to see manufacturing come back to the U.S., then one step we all must take is to change our language about education. We must support, promote and cheer on those who feel that they’d be good machinists, welders, etc. and avoid pushing them toward engineering if that is not THEIR passion. (Let’s build a few widgets we can sell to China instead of them selling the widget to us, for once.) The conversation shift may just save one of your family members from a lifetime of unnecessary school loan debt load, too.
—Josh Pies, executive producer, C47 Film Associates, Rochester

I believe that it is a blight on our society that one can no longer graduate from high school and get a good-paying job as a machinist, sheet metal mechanic, electrician or production worker.
—Ed McDonnell

This is very dependent on what field the degree is in. Students need to find out BEFORE if what they want to study will lead to work in the future. And this is always shifting. Degrees should also demonstrate the ability to learn.
—Ken Carl

How can anyone say the opposite, "Is it worth more to be uneducated?" The issue is how much does one have to pay for the general courses typical in freshman and sophomore years of a four year private school. If one has to get into debt to pay for English 101 or Algebra 101, then there is common sense disconnect. The community college 2+2 model should be encouraged as should a model where early general coursework could be taken online.
—Jay Birnbaum

What is under attack is the concept that a college degree in liberal arts or social sciences had value in that it made you a "better" person. A teaching degree used to be an automatic gateway to a job. No more. Going to college with no idea about a career field is no longer a valuable experience. It ends in debt and unemployment.
—Frank Muscato

Students, parents and high schools need to be realistic in assessing a student’s financial ability to afford the schools to which they apply, since most students will have debt to repay upon graduation. If the family cannot afford the expensive school and the amount of debt the student will have at graduation is high compared to the chosen field then the student should go to a less expensive college or start out at a community college. To a certain extent and for many fields, a degree is a degree. Also, the job market was horrible for my brother and me upon graduation but we took the jobs that were available, even though they were not in our fields. We continued to look and within a year found work in our fields. Be persistent and take a job, any job! Don’t be too proud or demanding, just get in the door and be willing to work your way up from the bottom or “pay your dues.” You’ll be better off in the long run with this approach; it will pay off.
—Debbie Gleason

There are numerous problems with the operational costs at public and private universities. They don’t have the same discipline to control costs as a business does. The waste at the universities in capital costs is astounding and students are paying for it. The colleges spend more per square footage to build (two to three times the costs) than any company doing research and development and using Class A office space would think about. They have convinced themselves that these institutional costs are normal because they have a steady stream of income in tuition and wealthy donors. The reality is, most people can barely afford a SUNY school, let alone a private one. And while once a college education was a reasonable expense worth the sacrifice, it has now become so out of reach you can only get one if you are dead broke (aid) or are flush with cash can you afford to go paying the full price. Otherwise the middle class cannot afford to send kids to college without incurring oppressive debt. If you worked hard bought a house and pay your mortgage and your bills that was a mistake. You were better off being irresponsible.
—Stan Kraemer

I feel you must research the field(s) you want to pursue, carefully, to see if there is saturation in the field(s). That is something people should have always done. Today, it is imperative.
—Kathy Keady

Absolutely a college degree is worth the cost—but it has to be the right degree. Before anyone enters college, they should choose a field of study that is in demand, and a college well known for it.
—Rick Corey, Penfield

Investing in human capital is good; however the market for it is misaligned. Taxpayers should not be on the hook for college educations. The colleges should. From their endowments and other resources, let them invest in their students’ success (and possible failure) by fronting the money for loans. Some colleges might offer fewer courses in certain areas as a result, but all resources are scarce and TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch).
—Peter Durant, Nixon Peabody LLP

I cannot imagine the tuition charged today by many universities, nor the debt incurred. When I went back to complete my degree after a long hiatus, I chose a SUNY school, and in my circumstances as a single mom, TAP and Pell covered it all. I soon found out, though, that a bachelor’s degree in a human services field is worth squat. So I stayed in my bookkeeping job, until I was let go when the company was sold in 2009. I then parlayed my extensive volunteer background with environmental groups into a contract gig as an energy educator for a few months last year. In my case, I am very glad I wasn’t left with debt I could not have paid off, and hope young people and their parents think long and hard before enrolling at an expensive school. From what I read, in the end, the school you attend and top grades don’t even matter that much.
—Margie Campaigne, BS ’99, SUNY Empire State , Margie’s Green Irene Mart

Grossly oversold and overpriced. Valuable within reason, alternatives like 2+2, military, and night school are looked down upon. Fact is, college is not for everyone and if you can’t afford it you shouldn’t buy it just like so many other things in life.
—Mike Masiello

Yes, for a state school or trade school. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs to be filled in the STEM fields, but unfortunately the extra work required to obtain those skills is unattractive to the present generations. Or there’s the stigma of being "blue collar." For example, engineering was once revered by the general public in the post-war era, now it’s treated as a commodity, and well, just too difficult to be “fun” or worth it. A degree is not always the answer as Mike Rowe of (Discovery Channel’s) “Dirty Jobs” has testified to before Congress. An electrical lineman can make well into six figures by going through an apprenticeship that is much less expensive than college. Even a skilled CNC or PLC programmer can make $50,000 or better with no college debt. Same with a plumber or electrician. Learn a trade—you will never be completely out of work (provided you have the work ethic).
—Doug Strang, S & S Engineering P.C.

Although college degrees generally help people find meaningful and lucrative employment, there are many grads out there with degrees that are "irrelevant" to the workplace. That is why we have good jobs that are not being filled with American college grads, while others with hard earned degrees cannot find work. There is also a need for trained technical workers, welders, electricians, lab techs, that do not require degrees. There is no room for the unskilled worker, and the few laborer jobs available are not being filled (except by foreign workers) because unskilled Americans are not willing to do hard manual labor. Americans need to recognize that the world does NOT owe them a living and our social systems need to recognize that fact, as well.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield

It was no easier to get a job when I graduated in 1976. Today’s grads need to do it the old fashioned way—get an education and then work hard to prove their ability and move up the ladder of economic opportunity.
—Mark W. Leunig, Senior Managing Counsel, Xerox Corp.

I graduated from UR with a B.S. in chemical engineering with $7,000 in college loans and a first-year salary of $22,000. Unfortunately, those ratios might be reversed for today’s grads. We need to encourage more students to go into technical fields like engineering and biotech, and to discourage students from borrowing money to pursue fields that, while interesting to them, are not in demand.
—Karen Zilora, president, Creative Scanning Solutions Inc.

A specialized trade school degree may or may not be "worth it," but a true college education is priceless.
—Rob Brown, ESOP Plus

Although my college degree was definitely worth the cost (free tuition at CUNY) those days are behind us. Today’s college tuition costs are exorbitantly high, especially at private colleges, who have made no attempt to rein in costs. When a college basketball coach is paid a $1.9 million salary, you know where the tuition money is going. Unfortunately the manufacturing jobs that paid a decent middle-class salary for which a high school degree was good enough are a thing of the past as well. Today you need a college degree to be a barista.
—Irene Burke, Burke Group

While I am not working in the same field in which I earned my BS 25 years ago, I have a fulfilling and productive career in large part BECAUSE I earned a bachelor’s degree. College is not trade school, and equating employment in a graduate’s degree area with that degree being "worth the cost" is simplistic and unnecessarily limiting. (Don’t get me wrong: trade school and vocational education are important, too, but that’s not the sole purpose of a college education!)
—Christine Corrado, RIT

Going to college broadened my vision and opened many doors for me. Were it not for college, I seriously doubt I’d be the owner of a small business. I paid my own way through college, however, when I went to SUNY schools it was only $200.00 per semester in the 1960s. Today’s student has a much higher tuition then my generation. Still the college degree remains a good value vs. not having one.
—Peter Bonenfant

I got great value for my college education. I am very concerned about my child’s value/benefit trade-off. She decided to attend a college that will cost her about the same as a SUNY school. She can do that thanks to her good grades and test scores. A lot of her friends (and their parents) will be borrowing per year what my daughter will borrow over her four-year program. College debt may be the next big bubble to burst.
—Nancy Peterson

In spite of our economic downturn in recent years, along with the corresponding decline in available promising job opportunities, I still believe a college education is a great long-term investment. Most employers will not consider a job applicant without the person having some college credits. Oftentimes a college degree is the leverage a potential employee needs to get the interview and/or the actual job. That being said, college costs continue to spiral upward, deepening the divide between the haves and have-nots in our society.
—L.S. Decker, MVP Health Care

The best … university is one that will teach you HOW to think.
—Bob Slocomb

The college experience is not for everyone, but for many, it is an investment that provides returns beyond an immediate job. While a degree can help or should help the graduate obtain a job; college can also develop critical thinking skills, social skills and an appreciation for life that isn’t measured in just dollars and cents.
—Bill McDonald, Medical Motor Service

Since I went to school in the "olden days" and chose to attend New York State Schools—the Fashion Institute of Technology (AAS) and Geneseo (BA and MLS)—my education was not only first-rate, but a great value for the investment. If you are able to attend the very best, top-name schools and you either: 1. have a scholarship; 2. have a family that can pay your way, you will come out ahead for the rest of your life. If you attend a great community college, you will be financially ahead of the game, especially if you learn a trade or specialty diploma/certificate/degree. But if you go to a middling institution and pay big bucks that you have to borrow, you may as well save your money. It will not help you land a career that will pay back that loan. I would advise students to learn tangible skills and trades in computer science, medicine, labor/building, law enforcement, criminal justice, automotive and food service. Instead of spending huge dollars on college, I would purchase or help purchase a home for my child to live in as they build their adult life. I think it is a practical and wise investment and a true benefit to them. Of course I would also expect discipline, hard work, sacrifice and a reality check from them. That is what is missing from the lives of many students. Really, you are going to pay for your daughter to go an unheard of college to study theater because she wants to go to Hollywood? Really?
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design

In a general sense, I am doing the type of work I envisioned when I graduated with a B.A. in economics. However, the nature of work continually evolves and college graduates must continually upgrade their knowledge base to keep current. This is why I eventually earned three master’s degrees. I cannot emphasize enough that learning is a lifelong process which we must do to stay relevant in our professions and to create a meaningful world for our children.
—Doug Flood

5/25/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

 

 

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